Last winter, AAA Roadside Service reported “rescuing” 175,000 drivers here in Maine. With the winter season now fully upon us, it might be good to review a few items that can make or break your ability to help someone (or yourself) in a wintery jam.
1. Compact shovel
Whether you buy a high end backpacking shovel, or visit your local army surplus to get a trenching tool, it’s a great idea to have a shovel with you. Many cars that end up off the roads are hung up, or ‘floating,’ on top of the snow. Having a shovel will give you the ability to get the tires back on the ground, and reduce the amount of friction if you’re in a towing situation.
2. Hand warmers
These can be a real help if children and/or the elderly are involved in your scenario. Both of these parties have a much harder time maintain their own body temperature, and their extremities are in greater risk in extreme temperatures. It’s not uncommon for roadside assistance to take 45 minutes to reach you. If the car is disabled it will cool down quickly, and having these around can help warm those outer extremities for hours.
While I have never experienced it here in Maine, I know other states receive weather that can leave people stranded on the roadways for extended periods of time. Having a little something to keep you going can be a real morale boost. Make sure it has a high calorie count, is compact, and will keep well in a range of temperatures.
4. Salt, Sand or Chemical Deicer
While this item can be tricky to find space for, if you can squeeze it in then do so! Ice and packed snow can limit or neutralize even the most capable 4-wheel drive vehicles. Used wisely, even a single bag of deicer can buy you just enough bite to get the job done!
5. Headlamp or Flashlight
Shorter days = shorter light. In the winter season, your chances of driving in the dark are much greater. A headlamp offers the benefits of hands free operation, so you have both hands available to perform your work. Being in a bind in the winter is bad enough; being in a bind and not having enough light to diagnose a problem only compounds the difficulties of your situation.
6. Blanket, Clothes and Boots
This one ties hand-in-hand with the hand-warmers, as the need to stay warm, dry, and preserve your body temperature is important. I have never worked a job where I had to wear a suit and tie, but many guys do. Penny loafers and cufflinks aren’t exactly the best aids in getting a car two-feet deep in snow back on the road. Having a change of clothes fit for the conditions is important. The blanket can be a big help if you come across an accident that first responders have not been able to reach yet. It will keep a victim warm without having to move them!
7. Jumper cables
I would expect you to already have this in your car, but if not – get a pair! The cold does nasty things to batteries, and exploits those that were already near needing to be replaced. Giving someone a jump is one of the easiest things to do, yet without cables, it doesn’t matter how willing you are to help them, you’re powerless. I would recommend getting a pair at least 16′ in length and made with a heavier gauge wire. That way, you have the highest chance of being able to reach their battery terminals even if you cannot put your cars nose to nose. The heavier gauge helps ensure the easiest transfer of power from one vehicle to the next.
8. Tow straps
I know you might be thinking, “I drive a sedan. I can’t tow anyone.” The reality is – you might actually be able to. Sometime a little tug is all that is needed; so don’t underestimate your vehicles abilities. The longer the strap the better, as you never know what conditions you will find yourself in. Lastly, consider that the strap might be to help someone else get YOU out of a jam. You might not have a truck, but if the person who stops does, there is still a chance they might not have a tow strap, and you’ll be there to help them help you!
9. Wiper Blade and Fluid
Winter can wreak havoc on wiper blades. They put in a lot of work, and we’re often rough on them with our scrapers. Having them break or not work properly is no fun when you need them. However, it doesn’t take much effort to tuck a replacement in with your spare tire. The washer fluid is pretty self-explanatory. Unless you’re diligent in checking your fluids regularly, there’s a chance you will run out when you need it most. If you have room, stow either a full or partial one in a sealed container somewhere.
If you’re helping someone, or are in need of help yourself, winter weather conditions make roadside assistance extremely dangerous. Limited visibility, nighttime conditions, and poor traction reduce driver reaction time. A road flare can ensure your safety when dealing with a vehicle near a roadway by alerting others of the potential hazard. When buying flares, keep in mind that burn times vary greatly. Make sure to buy the right number accordingly.
Hope these tips and ideas helped spark your initiative to prepare your vehicle this winter, and hopefully you can help yourself or someone else get out of a bind! Stay sharp and drive safe!